CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — West Texas A&M University announced that the United States Department of Agriculture is sending a first-generation West Texas A&M University student to a national student leadership conference set to take place on Oct. 28-30 in Chicago.

WT officials announced that Juan Castaneda, a sophomore agriculture business and economics major from Amarillo, will attend the “¡Adelante! Leadership Institute” at the 37th annual Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities conference.

Castaneda, according to officials, was named College Assistance Migrant Program’s 2022-23 Scholar of the Year after completing the program.

The USDA attended CAMP’s 2023 orientation retreat in August “to hear scholars’ stories of migrating within the agricultural work field,” officials noted. Attendees learned more about USDA programs and opportunities including USDA’s new HEP/CAMP Internship that launched nationally in 2022.

“They reached out and said they wanted to sponsor one of our students, and I thought Juan would meet their requirements and would benefit from attending because he’s interested in pursuing a job in agriculture,” said Fabiola Hernandez, CAMP director.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” Castaneda said. “I’ll have the opportunity to meet so many students and professionals in this industry. I feel like I’ll be meeting new faces and building new connections every day.”

According to officials, Castaneda graduated from Randall High School and grew up working construction and cattle jobs with his dad.

“I really didn’t think college was for me until my senior year in high school,” Castaneda said. “I saw information about the ag program at WT, and I learned that if you have a degree in agriculture, it shows you can do the professional side of the work, too, and help you in your future career path.”

Further, CAMP offers first-year support for high school students who are moving into college and want to develop the skills needed to graduate from college including tutoring, financial aid counseling, cultural enrichment, professional development activities, scholarships up to $2,700 and monthly stipends, among other opportunities, officials detailed.

“I’m hoping Juan is just the first WT student that will be sponsored by the USDA for this conference,” Hernandez said.

The conference is designed to build the careers and leadership skills of undergraduate students through networking opportunities, workshops, presentations, and luncheons, according to HACU. More than 500 students from the U.S. and Puerto Rico are set to attend the conference.

Students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and be currently enrolled in an undergraduate degree program along with being eligible to work in the U.S., among other requirements, in order to qualify for a sponsorship to attend the HACU conference. The sponsorship, officials detailed, will pay for the students’ registration, airfare, lodging and some meals.

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